Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

As Social Discovery Apps Proliferate, Sonar Aims for Greater Relevance

Smartphone-based social discovery is heating up. But after this year’s South by Southwest saw multiple social discovery apps debut, all touting similar features, it’s getting difficult for companies to differentiate within the space.

That’s why Sonar, one of the few apps in the category that has been around for a few years, is trying something new. Up until now, Sonar has acted much like its name would suggest: Walk into a room, and using publicly available data pulled in from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the app tells you who’s nearby, and what you may have in common with one another.

Sonar’s new tack, then, is honing in on relevance. The company launched an update to its app on Wednesday, focused on putting users in touch with others nearby that they want to see. Setting the new Sonar Status feature, for instance, is like sending a tweet out to your nearby connections, but no further. So if you’re, say, sending status updates about how awful the beer lines are at a music festival, that status will actually show up for others in your proximity — you know, the people who would actually care about that status update — but no further.

To boot, the company is also flipping on the ambient location switch, adding features that aren’t terribly different from recent competitors like Highlight, Banjo and Glancee. Essentially, the app will run in the background, sharing your location and status with those nearby without having to open the application.

Sonar insists, however, that its app will only send you push notifications if you’re near someone you actually know — in other words, a Facebook friend, or someone you follow on Twitter — instead of people you should know, a la Highlight or Banjo. And if you want to chat with someone nearby without broadcasting it to the world via Twitter, Sonar now lets users send private messages.

It’s an attempt to tackle a glaring issue in the social discovery space: How do we connect with relevant people, especially when relevance changes on a contextual basis? While I may not want to talk with someone I don’t know at a coffee shop, it may prove helpful to connect with other, less familiar people in your extended network when you’re both at a tech conference.

The great unknown at this point is Facebook, the behemoth that has its sights set on improving its mobile experience. Facebook just recently acquired Glancee, one of the competing apps in the social discovery space. It’s anyone’s guess as to how — or when — Facebook will use the technology.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work